Written By Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)
Now that the Olympics are officially over it’s time to return to the Season Of Champions. We are now going to look at the 2018 edition of the Tim Hortons Brier, which returns to Regina for the first time since 2006 when Jean-Michel Menard defeated Glenn Howard in the final.
This year’s field is mostly a top heavy lineup with a mix of returning veterans and first timers, with seven contenders having a possible chance of winning it all. As always, we’ll go through our top fifteen teams as a whole and mention the two wildcard teams at the end.
Firstly, here’s each Pool, which will see the top four teams advance to the championship round for a shot at the playoffs.
- British Columbia
- Newfoundland & Labrador
- Northwest Territories
- Nova Scotia
- New Brunswick
- Northern Ontario
- Prince Edward Island
1) Team Canada (Bally Haly Golf & Curling Club – St. John’s)
Skip – Brad Gushue, Vice – Mark “Bam Bam” Nichols, Second – Brett Gallant, Lead – Geoff Walker
Grand Slam Record – 18-5 (Champion, Champion, Quarter-Finalist, DNQ)
For a team that a lot of people penciled in to make the Olympics, their third place result at the Trials had to be a bit disappointing. Despite that, Gushue’s the odds-on favourite to win a second straight Brier title, especially if he has his early season form where no one could touch him on the Grand Slam circuit. They did struggle a little bit early on in Ottawa as they got to grips with things on their mechanics, but I don’t think they should have any issues in Regina. Having won it all last year, Gushue has nothing to lose as they seem set to go on another four-year run barring a lineup change.
1) Team Canada (Brad Gushue)
Olympic Trials disappointment aside, the Gushue rink has been the team to beat over the last calendar year and they come in to Regina as the easy favourites. With not as much pressure as there was a year ago playing at home, expect the Newfoundland squad to have a strong week with a couple of challenges here or there. They may have struggled a little bit at some recent events, but we said that about Kevin Koe the last two years and they did okay at the Brier.
2) Manitoba (West St. Paul Curling Club – Winnipeg)
Skip – Reid Carruthers, Vice – “Pimp” Braeden Moskowy, Second – Derek Samagalski, Lead – Colin Hodgson
Grand Slam Record – 10-10 (DNQ, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist)
This season has been full of ups and downs for Reid Carruthers, especially after just missing out on the playoffs at the Roar of the Rings. That being said, they’ve bounced back in style by running the table at the Manitoba Provincials. Their first trip to the Brier together in 2015 left a lot to be desired with a 4-7 record, but these guys have more experience under their belts and they can make a ton of shots. If they play at their best, they should easily make the playoffs and give Carruthers a chance to win his first title as a skip.
2) Manitoba (Reid Carruthers)
Over the last couple of years, Carruthers has led one of the top rinks on the men’s side but hasn’t the result to show for it. Well other than last year’s runner-up with Joanne ‘Frizz’ Courtney in the mixed doubles worlds, but that’s another story. Given how well they’ve played from top to bottom, Carruthers has a great chance to defeat Gushue if they come out of the gates strong. Plus, with the Brier being in Regina, you can bet that Moskowy will want to play well in front of his hometown.
3) Northern Ontario (Community First Curling Centre – Sault Ste. Marie)
Skip – Brad Jacobs “Cups”, Vice – Ryan “Medium Size” Fry, Second – E.J. Harnden, Lead – Ryan “Pete” Harnden
Grand Slam Record – 14-7 (Semi-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, Semi-Finalist)
Speaking of teams who have had up and down stretches, Brad Jacobs got off to a pretty promising start to the season until the Roar Of The Rings where things just fell apart and they missed out on the playoffs. Then at the Northern Ontario provincials, Jacobs had to grind his way big time through the playoffs as he won a tie-breaker game then came from behind to beat Canadian Junior runner-up Tanner Horgan. Those showings remind me a bit of what this rink went through in 2013 and 2014 where they always did things the hard way way before winning. With that said, if the provincial win gives them their confidence back, the rest of the field needs to watch out.
3) Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs)
Not only is the beard back, but this squad has already announced that they’ll be back for another four-year cycle and another run at the Olympics. With a nothing to lose attitude, I expect them to be in the mix once again to win it all. Like we said in Ottawa though, they’ll need to get wins early or risk getting down on themselves and falling out of the mix.
4) Alberta (Saville Community Sports Centre – Edmonton)
Skip – Brendan Bottcher, Vice – Darren Moulding, Second – Brad Thiessen, Lead – Karrick “The Jackhammer” Martin
Grand Slam Record – 8-3 (Semi-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist – Only competed in two Slams)
Brendan Bottcher has been putting in some pretty good performances this season, including being our biggest surprise at the Olympic Trials. Out of the other potential contenders that aren’t the main title threats, I feel like this rink is the most consistent out of the group, even if their shooting percentages don’t quite add up. Sure they didn’t do well at the Brier last year with a 3-8 record, but Bottcher and the rest of the team should have a much improved showing, especially with being in an easier pool.
4) Ontario (John Epping)
Now that he’s finally won a provincial title as a skip and handing the title of best curler yet to make a Brier to Jason Gunnlaugson (?!?!?!) in the process, expect Epping to hit the ground running in Regina. We’ve talked a lot about his ability to make crazy run-backs out of nothing and I expect to see some of those great shots all week long. I’m not sure he’ll make the final, but he’s an instant threat for a championship nevertheless.
5) Ontario (Leaside Curling Club – Toronto)
Skip – “Big” John Epping, Vice – Matt Camm, Second – Patrick Janssen, Lead – Tim March
Grand Slam Record – 11-10 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, Semi-Finalist, DNQ)
Well it finally happened, John Epping beat Glenn Howard in a provincial final (only took you 12 years). Anyway, of the title contenders this is one of the wild cards as we really don’t know how Epping and his team will perform. They’ll play well as a group or be off their game and force John into making his insane runbacks. There’s pretty much no in between here, but I think Epping will be riding high after making a Brier and be a playoff threat. Oh, and he’ll make two big runbacks this week.
5) Alberta (Brendan Bottcher)
If there’s any team that can break up the status quo in the playoffs, it’s this squad. Having been to a Brier before and coming off a strong showing at the Olympic Trials, the Bottcher rink is continuing their rise through the ranks. A top four finish might come around in their next trip to the nationals, but a tiebreaker game wouldn’t shock me.
6) Saskatchewan (Nutana Curling Club – Saskatoon)
Skip – Steve Laycock, Vice – Matt Dunstone, Second – Kirk Muyers, Lead – Dallan Muyers
Grand Slam Record – 3-6 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ – Only competed in two slams)
After a pretty rough year and a half, Steve Laycock has somewhat righted the ship with the chance to compete at his home province’s Brier, even though he had to take the Brad Jacobs route to win Saskatchewan. It’s kind of difficult to tell how Laycock will perform, since we haven’t seen a lot of him this year and he didn’t play well at the Roar of the Rings. This will be a coming-out party for fourth stone thrower Matt Dunstone, another former Canadian Junior champion who has awesome hitting ability. I expect Dunstone to stand on his head this week and there’s a chance here for a winning record with the rest of the team’s experience at the Brier.
6) Saskatchewan (Steve Laycock)
Like his fellow Manitoban Shannon Birchard did at the Scotties, Dunstone has a chance to have a huge breakout week on a national stage in Regina. With Saskatchewan still looking for their first Brier title since 1980, Laycock is still the best bet to end that drought, though his bronze medal showing in 2015 is quickly fading in the rear view mirror. Like Bottcher, he can get in a tiebreaker but the playoffs might be a tall task.
7) Nova Scotia (Halifax Curling Club)
Skip – Jamie “Don’t Call Me Charlie” Murphy, Vice – Paul Flemming, Second – Scott Saccary, Lead – Philip Crowell
Grand Slam Record – N/A
Jamie Murphy returns to the Brier for the fourth as he looks to build off of his 4-7 showing a year ago. He did have some close games in the round-robin last year, so he won’t be a push over for anyone. Plus, he’s in the easier of the two pools, so he has a good chance of making it to the championship round.
7) Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy)
There’s a bit of a drop-off when it comes from the top teams to the rest of the pack, but Murphy should lead the way when it comes to the second half of the field. Given how well the Bluenosers women’s team did at the Scotties, I’m sure Murphy and his team want to match that performance. If they get to the Championship round, anything is possible.
8) British Columbia (Kelowna Curling Club)
Skip – Sean Geall, Vice – Jeff Richard, Second – Andrew Nerpin, Lead – David Harper
Grand Slam Record – N/A
In the first of two provincial surprises we’ll talk about in this preview, Sean Geall makes his first trip to the Brier since going 6-5 in 2009 after upsetting Jim Cotter. Geall’s been a contender in British Columbia for quite a long time and having another former Brier competitor in Jeff Richard on the roster should help a bit. It’s tough to say how they’ll end up, but like Nova Scotia, they are in an easier pool and have a good chance of making it into the championship pool.
8) Northwest Territories (Jamie Koe)
Having returned from causing chaos in South Korea while watching his brother at the Olympics, national hero Jamie Koe is back at the Brier yet again. The last time the event was held in Saskatchewan, he led the Northwest Territories to a fourth place showing at the 2012 Brier in Saskatoon. I don’t expect him to match that result, but his Twitter feed will be the star of the event as he runs wild in the #Patch.
9) Quebec (Glenmore Curling Club – Dollard-des-Ormeaux)
Skip – Mike Fournier, Vice – Felix Asselin, Second – William Dion, Lead – Jean-Francois Trepanier
Grand Slam Record – N/A
In the other upset of the provincials Mike Fournier knocked off multi-time Quebec champion Jean-Michel Menard in a slugfest of a final. Fournier does have a couple of former junior players in the lineup in Felix Asselin and former national champion William Dion, so that should help them out a bit, even though they are in a tougher pool compared to some of the other mid-pack teams.
9) British Columbia (Sean Geall)
After a great last shot to beat Jim Cotter, Geall is back at the Brier and has a good shot of making the championship round if things work out. Jeff Richard is a great pick up to the rink and British Columbia usually has some fairly good curlers waiting in the wings behind the big names. Don’t be shocked if this ends up being out surprise team of the week.
10) Northwest Territories (Yellowknife Curling Centre)
Skip – Jamie Koe “Patch”, Vice – Chris Schille, Second – Brad Chorostkowski, Lead – Robert Borden
Grand Slam Record-N/A
So the king of the patch is back to drink and party, along with apparently having to curl in between. Last year was a week to forget with a 1-10 record, but he did hand Brad Gushue his last loss before he ran the table at the Brier and the Worlds. This rink isn’t a pushover for anyone and the pool format might allow him to contend for more wins. Or Jamie can just go party in the #patch as he usually does.
10) New Brunswick (James Grattan)
Remember when Grattan finished third in 1997 as a skip and again in 2002 as the third for Russ Howard? Those were good times. He has been in the middle part of the field in his last trips in 2013 and 2014 so there’s a chance he could surprise here in Regina. I just don’t see it happening.
11) New Brunswick (The Gage Golf & Country Club in Oromoctooooooooooo, New Brunswick)
Skip – James Grattan, Vice – Chris Jeffrey, Second – Andy McCann (With a great Expos hat!), Lead – Peter Case
Grand Slam Record – N/A
It’s been four years since we’ve seen James Grattan at the Brier and his results have been mixed as a skip along the way. The usual problems will probably come up during the week with the teams from the East Coast having to play on different ice surfaces, and that will probably happen early on. If they can get a couple of wins early, they might be in the playoff hunt. Also, how did New Brunswick get Papa John’s to sponsor their playdowns?
11) Quebec (Mike Fournier)
Like British Columbia, Quebec is another province where the depth is pretty solid even if the big favourite doesn’t come through. Having two top junior alumni should help Fournier out, but it’s hard to see him cracking the top half of the field at the Brier given what’s ahead of him.
12) Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown Curling Club)
Skip – Eddie Mackenzie, Vice – Josh Barry, Second – Christopher Gallant, Lead – Sean Ledgerwood
Grand Slam Record – N/A
One person who is glad the pre-qualifying round is gone is Eddie Mackenzie as he missed out on the main event last year. He’s been to the Brier but has not had a lot of success with his best result being a 4-7 showing in 2014. The addition of Josh Barry at vice should help them get a few more wins, but he’ll be in tough as he’s in the harder of the two pools.
12) Yukon (Thomas Scoffin)
Like Sarah Koltun, Scoffin is the future of curling in the Territories once national hero Jamie Koe retires to open #Patch Breweries or something along those lines. It will be a learning week for this talented youngster but expect Scoffin to make some noise in the years to come, especially if some lineup changes happen in the next few months and he joins a veteran lineup.
13) Yukon (Whitehorse Curling Club)
Skip – Thomas Scoffin, Vice – Tom Appleman, Second – Wade Scoffin, Lead – Steve Fecteau
Grand Slam Record – N/A
A seven-time Canadian junior participant that led the Yukon to a 7-5 record in 2011 and won a silver medal with Alberta in 2012 after losing to Matt Dunstone in the final, Thomas Scoffin has returned to his home province with a pretty solid squad. Not only is he playing with his dad, but he’s also brought along Tom Appleman who used to play with Brendan Bottcher. Like Jamie Koe has done with the Northwest Territories, Scoffin has a chance to carry the Yukon for many years. He might struggle this week, but if his success at the Juniors is any indication, expect him to pull off some big upsets over the next few years.
13) Prince Edward Island (Eddie MacKenzie)
He’s gotten a little bit better after a few trips to the Brier, but it’s hard to see MacKenzie finishing anywhere else but the bottom of the field. With no true young talent set to lead a team after Adam Casey went to Saskatchewan, it might be a long while before Prince Edward Island is near the upper half of the standings.
14) Newfoundland & Labrador (Bally Haly Golf & Curling Club – St. John’s)
Skip – Greg Smith, Vice – Matthew Hunt, Second – Andrew Taylor, Lead – Ian Withycombe
(Could Curling Canada not get a better photo than this blurry one of the rink?)
Grand Slam Record – N/A
This is where we find out what the depth of curling in Newfoundland is like on the men’s side if someone other than Brad Gushue makes it to the Brier. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to see plenty of teams in the provincials after just two took part a couple of years ago, but this is going to be a long week for Smith. With that said, it’s going to be a big help to have someone else at the Brier from the province. I mean, Gushue can’t play forever right?
14) Newfoundland & Labrador (Greg Smith)
Had the defending U Sports national champion Adam Boland won the provincials, I may have had this province in a higher slot. Granted, Smith did represent Newfoundland at the juniors a few years ago, but I suspect this will be a long week for the rink. They will get to play Gushue though, so that will be fun.
15) Nunavut (Iqualit Curling Club)
Skip – Dave St. Louis, Vice – Wade Kingdon, Second – Peter Mackey, Lead – Jeff Nadeau
Grand Slam Record – N/A
This is pretty much a similar story to our preview for the Scotties regarding this territory. Yes, Dave St. Louis will be able to get more games under his belt and be able to help Nunavut progress, but he’ll be in a really tough group and will have to play Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba and Northern Ontario along the way. Their might be some big blowouts coming, but if they can keep these games somewhat close it might be a good week.
15) Nunavut (Dave St. Louis)
The big question for Nunavut is of course if they will win a game this week. Their best chance would be against Prince Edward Island in Pool Play, but they may have a shot in the seeeding games to wrap up the week depending on who they face. Either way, it’s going to be a long week.
Wildcard Game Preview
Team Mike McEwen (Fort Rouge Curling Club – Winnipeg)
Skip- “ Magic” Mike McEwen, Vice – B.J. Neufeld, Second – Matt Wozniak, Lead – Denni Neufeld
Grand Slam Record – 11-7 (Semi-Finalist, Semi-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist – Only competed in three slams)
This almost has a very similar feel to Chelsea Carey’s trip to the Scotties, as the Canadian Trials runner-up failed to win the provincials. Granted, McEwen missed almost all of the Manitoba provincials due to the chicken pox, which forced the team to play with just three guys and put B.J. Neufeld at skip. They made it to the finals, which saw McEwen make a shocking return at vice, but they came up just short against Reid Carruthers. McEwen is healthy once again and is the favourite to win this game. If he make it to the main field, he should easily make it to the podium.
Provided he doesn’t look like Sickly Sam again, McEwen should bounce back from two tough losses and make it to the Brier field if all goes well in the winner-take-all contest. If he does make it there, this rink should be the biggest threat to knocking off Brad Gushue. It remains to be seen if this lineup will stay intact after the season, so this might be their last shot at a major crown if changes are in store.
Team Jason Gunnlaugson (Granite Curling Club – Winnipeg)
Skip – “Gunner” Jason Gunnlaugson, Vice – Alex Forrest, Second – Ian McMillan, Lead – Connor Njegovan
Grand Slam Record – 15-6 (Champion, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist)
Now we come to potentially the biggest wildcard in the field, provided he actually wins this game. Gunner has had a pretty good season for the most part although his provincial was a total disaster that lasted only three games. The squad is pretty solid but they just can’t seem to get over the hump come playoff time at the Grand Slams, other than than Tier II win earlier this year at the Tour Challenge. Gunner’s hitting ability is something to behold and that could help his team finish anywhere from third to seventh in this field. It’s so hard to guess where he’ll end up, but it will be lots of gun watching Gunner throw throw giant quadruple takeout bombs though.
A cult icon to be sure, Gunner is having his best season to date as a men’s skip and has been rewarded with a chance to sneak into the Brier. If he beats McEwen, this is a true wild card of a rink as they could be anywhere from the finals to missing out on the playoffs. Personally, I’d probably have them in fourth place behind the big three, but the Gunner and Koe matchup will be the game of the week for pure comedy. TSN probably won’t show it, but that’s their loss.